By James Durso
Source: The Hill
The sanctions against Iran are obviously working as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has again called for the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Instead, the U.S. should continue the policy of “The worse, the better” and use the recent protests in Iraq and Lebanon against Iran’s “system” to create additional leverage against the clerical regime. Highlighting how Iran’s meddling in their countries has enriched Iran’s local placemen and the clerics, security officials, and regime insiders will strike a chord with the young crowds yearning for justice and economic opportunity.
Iran has been spending money on foreign adventures while ignoring urgent domestic needs, such as a deteriorating medical system, rapidly depleting ground water, and an environment “on the brink of crisis.”
In Syria, Iran has spent over $15 billion (and over Iranian 2,300 soldiers lost their lives) propping up the Assad regime. Lebanon’s Hezbollah may get over $830 million annually, and Hamas receives about $360 million each year. Iran’s favorite militias in Iraq got as much as $1 billion a year. In Yemen, Iran’s Houthi proxies may get $30 million per month in Iranian fuel to fund their effort.
Caroline Glick suggests that economic sanctions, part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign have reduced Iran’s military budget, forcing its Iraqi and Lebanese satraps to loot public funds and extort money from citizens to fund their operations. If so, this is the most significant payoff of the sanctions regime: It aligned the interests of the protesters and the Americans with no overt American appeal to the protesters.
In recent years, protesters chanted “Leave Syria, think about us” and “Leave Gaza, leave Lebanon, my life for Iran,” so the Iranian people haven’t been gulled by the regime’s excuses for deferring needed social and infrastructure spending as it must urgently fight Zionism and “global arrogance.”
In a demonstration that the mullahs are taking the unrest seriously, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei blamed the U.S. and Saudi Arabia for the unrest in Iraq and Lebanon and, in an example of obliviousness, offered Iran’s suppression of protests in 2018 as a solution.
The U.S. can help the Iranian people with the most potent weapon it has — information about the financial dealings of the regime’s leaders.
The U.S. should start releasing some of the detailed intelligence it has collected about the financial dealings of Iran’s beneficiaries in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Some of that “aid” money fell off the table and there’s a good chance the U.S. knows into whose pockets it fell — and how much of it was kicked back to Iranian officials. Iranian citizens would be interested to learn who in the leadership owns condos in Dubai or has a rainy-day account in Cyprus.
True, this is sensitive intelligence information, but this is an opportunity to use it for strategic effect instead of treating it like a butterfly collection: gathered at great difficulty, painstakingly mounted, then displayed to your jealous friends. That’s not why Congress appropriates $80 billion a year for the intelligence community.
The targets could be: the families of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani; the Cabinet of Iran and the Islamic Consultative Assembly (parliament); the members of the Expediency Council, the Guardian Council, the Assembly of Experts; the leaders of the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, and the Ministry of Intelligence; the senior executives of state-owned corporations and the $95 billion Setad Ejraiye Farmane Hazrate, a real estate empire built on seized property at the exclusive control of Supreme Leader Khamenei.
The trickle of information will not be a knockout blow, but it will help to further delegitimize the corrupt elements in Iran’s leadership level, which may be the entire leadership level. And Iranian officials won’t be focused on mischief making if they are worried about protecting their assets; their kids, wives, and close associates will be worried, too.
And detailed revelations of corruption will increase tension among Iran’s “made men” once it’s evident everyone has cheated everyone else. And though the Iranian public is bending under the strain of economic privation, it hasn’t lost the ability to mock the leaders once the detailed evidence of their greed and cupidity is made known. As a smart man said, “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
To complement the release of financial information, the U.S. should not just deny visas to senior Iranian government officials and their immediate family members, but should release the names of the current and past visa holders. The Iranian public would be interested to know which regime insiders decided living with the consequences of the regime’s policies was OK for someone else’s family but not their own.
The recent protests in Iraq and Lebanon are an opportunity for the U.S. to cause additional stress in the Tehran regime, distract the leadership, and empower Iranian citizens with confirmation of the regime’s corruption.
James Durso (@james_durso) is the Managing Director of Corsair LLC, a supply chain consultancy. He was a professional staff member at the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission and the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Durso served as a U.S. Navy officer for 20 years and specialized in logistics and security assistance. His overseas military postings were in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and he served in Iraq as a civilian transport advisor with the Coalition Provisional Authority. He served afloat as Supply Officer of the submarine USS SKATE (SSN 578).